Everyone knows that before you run at a full sprint, you should warm up your muscles first. If you don’t, you will pull something, and possibly spend the next few weeks in recovery. Any physical activity requires that your warm up the muscles you are about to use. But, did you know that you need to warm up your vocal cords before you sing?
Yes, that’s right. Vocalists need to warm up before being able to perform at their peak. If you are not in the habit of warming up, you are putting undue strain on your yourself, and this could lead to injury.
To help you achieve your singing goals and avoid injury, we’re going to take a look at how your vocal cords work and what you should do to warm them up.
How Vocal Cords Work
Vocal cords, or vocal flaps, are a set of two mucous membranes found in the larynx at the top of the trachea. When we inhale or exhale, the flaps will open to allow air to pass into and out of the lung. When we hold our breath, the cords close off the airway.
And when we speak or sing, the cords open up slightly. But how do we produce sound? What allows us to talk or sing in the first place?
The shape and length of the vocal fold is a significant element in your tone. Men tend to have longer vocal cords, which is why the male voice is often deeper. Women tend to have shorter flaps, which is why they can easily hit those high notes.
There are two mechanics at work when vocalising anything. The first is air passing through the vocal flaps. As air passes over your vocal cords, the cords oscillate to create a sound rich in harmonics. In simple terms, think about your voice like a balloon.
If you inflate the balloon, the neck is open and does not produce sound. If you deflate the balloon, there is some sound, but not much. But, if you inflate the balloon (inhale), then deflate it (exhale) while controlling the airflow by tightening the neck, you can produce a tone. And depending on how fast you allow the air to escape, you can change the pitch of the sound coming from the balloon.
The second vocalisation mechanism is your mouth. You use the shape of your mouth, and your tongue to “shape” sounds into words. To feel the different shapes your mouth makes, say each of the vowels out loud.
A. E. I. O. U.
Now that you’ve got a basic understanding of the mechanics at work, it’s time to learn a few warm up tricks.
You should begin by passing warm air over your lungs and through your vocal folds. Take a deep breath and slowly exhale through your mouth without making any sound. Exhale until you feel like you have no air left in your body. Then inhale through your nose, and let the air fill you. Repeat the process a few times.
Sing Your Vowels
After a minute or two of breathing, start vocalising as you exhale. Take a deep breath, and as you let it out sing a vowel. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA”. Try to see how long you can hold the note. While you exhale, try to maintain a single pitch and volume. Once complete, repeat the exercise with the rest of the vowels.
If you ask professional singers what they do to warm up, almost all of them say they do lip trills. A lip trill is when you vibrate your lips together as you exhale as if you were making horse noises.
Lip trills are the ideal exercise for building stamina and warming up your voice. First, try to make the trill last for 3-5 seconds. Once you can do that, you can start adding in pitch. This video by Singgeek is an excellent starting point if you want to learn how to perfect your trill.
Sing Your Scales
Even if you’ve never seen “The Sound of Music”, you have undoubtedly heard about Solfege, or, Do Ra Mi Fa So La Ti Do.
Singing the Solfege and scales is your next warmup. Find the register that you are most comfortable in, and sing the notes of the scale. Don’t only sing 7-note scales; try and mix it up with a few arpeggios or pentatonic scales. It is, after all, good practice to learn how to jump between notes that are further apart on a scale.
Another favourite, low impact vocal exercise is “The Siren”. And no, we’re not suggesting you sit on a rock and sing at sailors to try to lure them into crashing. The siren is when you literally imitate the sound of a siren. If you’ve ever wanted an excuse to channel your inner ambulance or fire engine, nows your chance.
Now that you know how your vocal cords work and have a few ways to warm them up, it’s time for a few final tips when it comes to singing.
Practice daily: The only way to master your craft is to try to get at least 30-45 min to practice a day.
Drink water: Keep your pipes well lubricated by taking a small sip of water every few minutes.
Record yourself: The only way to improve is to know where you’re going wrong. Recording yourself will highlight your weak areas.